MD Board of Education: “Context matters” in decisions to suspend, arrest
The Maryland Board of Education sent public schools throughout the state a very important message, when it issued an opinion reversing Talbot County Public Schools’ suspension of two high school lacrosse players — context matters.
Graham Dennis and Casey Edsall, both seniors and varsity athletes at Easton High School, were suspended following a search of their lacrosse bags by the school principal and other staff members. Prior to the search, the Dennis admitted to having a pen knife in his bag. Edsall admitted to having a lighter.
The boys used the tools to repair their lacrosse sticks.
Despite this plausible and reasonable explanation, the school suspended Dennis for 10 days and Edsall for one. In addition, the school contacted police and Dennis was arrested on juvenile charges.
Acting on their conviction that their children had done nothing wrong, the boys’ parents fought the suspensions. Dennis’ parents also fought back against the juvenile charges, which were eventually dropped. Talbot County schools defended its decision to the uttermost.
Ultimately, the Board of Education rebuked the school system for failing to exercise proper discretion.
The Board’s decision is the right decision. Context does matter. Unfortunately, more and more students are being suspended, or even expelled, for nonviolent disciplinary infractions. This includes students who have never been in trouble before.
The decision in this matter signals that the Board has noticed the trend, and indicates that it will closely scrutinize the meting out of harsh punishment in nonviolent disciplinary matters.
Bryan Utter is an associate attorney at HooverLaw.